You can thank yourself later
Self-care goes beyond a fluffy Instagram hashtag, yet it’s hard to see it as such when the methods seem so temporary. Here’s how you can enrich yourself sustainably.
In September of 2017, I started going to therapy. I was only there for six months, but it changed the way I took care of myself in a lot of ways. It reinforced my own sense of self-importance, which in turn highlighted the significance of taking care of myself. At first, self-care seemed to me like an airy concept that didn’t actually mean anything practical. It seemed to revolve around ingesting warm beverages while lying in a bubble bath; nothing more than a social media trend that realistically wasn’t applicable in my day-to-day existence. I’d feel good for twenty minutes, but my bad habits and destructive thought patterns still simmered inside. I was burning myself out on mid-week late nights, and finding myself in day-long mental funks I couldn’t claw myself out of, no matter how desperately I tried. A Lush bath bomb wasn’t going to solve everything.
When I was in therapy, each weekly session marked a point of refuge from myself. It was once I left therapy that I realised I needed to stand on my own two feet, and that was when I began to seriously reconsider the concept of self-care. It slowly became much more of a cornerstone in the way I lived my life, rather than just some trend.
Caring for the physical
Along my journey, I’ve found that I get the most out of my life when I take care in what I put into it. Food impacts your energy levels and mental health, and highlights physical ailments like intolerances and chronic conditions. Food, like addiction, is closely linked to habit; and like any addiction, a sugar or salt addiction is tough to break. Most of the time, you plateau within these certain habits without realising that you’re low on energy or that your stomach is upset, because these habits have been normalised. I never used to have breakfast; I’d just sip on a coffee on my way to work, and just as I grew used to the standard feeling of sluggishness, I also got used to the gnawing that sat in the pit of my stomach until it was sated with lunch - and by that stage, I just wanted to eat anything that was quick and within reach. Invest in healthy food habits, like bringing along some chopped veggies when you go out, or making yourself even a slice of toast for breakfast, and the rest will follow.
Sleeping well means that you don’t have to rely on caffeine to give you energy. Excessive caffeine consumption doesn’t bode well for your physical or mental health. In fact, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Setting aside the time for some extra shut-eye, if you can, will give you the energy you need without the excess of adrenaline. Listen to your body when it’s telling you that you need more sleep. It’s not easy, but start by turning off your phone an hour before bed. Your phone emits what’s called blue light, which inhibits your production of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps you sleep. Alternatively, a cup of chamomile tea helps me gear down from my day and get ready for bed.
Physical movement has also really helped my mental health. Go to the gym, or walk your dog. Whether you’re sweating it out or singing to T-Swizzle, letting your body move the way it wants to can really get a lot of bad things out of your system. Routine exercise also encourages a more holistic approach to your health, as you’ll be generally more mindful of how you’re sleeping, how you’re eating, in addition to some newfound body awareness.
Caring for the spiritual
Do the things you know you need to do, but don’t want to do; the more you leave it, your mounting to-do list will only snowball and make you more anxious. Break things down and knock the easy tasks out of the way first. It’ll give you a little confidence to move on to the bigger ones, and all of a sudden you’ll be patting yourself on the back for smashing slew of tasks out. But don’t get too work-savvy all in one go, and overwhelm yourself. Make time for days where don’t have to do work at all. I’m a classic overachiever, so taking a step back and shedding the guilt during an allotted time slot felt counterintuitive at first. But slowly, it became something I looked forward to. It made me work harder in the times I said I’d work. I have this vision, conjured from many mornings spent like this, that is sun-soaked and perfect. I’m in my bedroom at home, with my parents’ old cassettes playing and incense burning as I drink a cup of lemongrass tea and mooch around the house all day. Those days are good for the soul.
Sometimes, I spend this time meditating - but not necessarily in the lotus position. I’ve realised that meditation is a flexible term, and is really a state of being rather than an act in itself. You can lie in the sun and close your eyes. Notice your body taking up space, and the feeling of breathing deeply. Journal; listen to music that nourishes your soul; take time after a shower to look after your body and engage in some positive self- talk. There’s a lot of self-love meditations and mantras out there that, when actually practiced, have really worked for me.
This one’s my personal favourite, and is best repeated over five deep breaths. Breathe in, and think, “I am love.” Say it out loud and really consider the meaning of those words. Feel it at your core. Breathe out, and think, “I am loved.” You will feel silly at first, but trust me. Striking up a hyper-positive, if not slightly corny dialogue with yourself is crucial.
Self-talk, however, just isn’t enough sometimes. I’m naturally a very stoic person - the thought of talking about my deep, dark feelings to close friends and family scares me. I hate being vulnerable, because it’s the only part of myself that I don’t quite understand yet, and it feels like I’m presenting a scrappy first draft of something I’ve written that I know isn’t done. But just last week, when I was having a difficult weekend, I
told my sisters what was really bothering me - and it was something I hadn’t even fully acknowledged within myself. What followed were conversations that left me feeling really empowered, as they broke down the myths I’d been mentally building up. It’s scary to share with the people close to you, but often, they can help you the most, because aside from yourself, they know you the best. Sometimes it’s good to get an outside perspective.
I’d like to say that I’m a transformed woman now, and that this has been my Eat Pray Love journey, but, like life, it’s still a work in progress. I still forget to take care of myself sometimes, and that’s okay. I live more sustainably with myself now, and I prioritise things that I know will be good for me in the long-term. That’s what self-care has become for me: the things I thank myself for later.
This article appeared in The Comma’s 2018 Annual Edition. Read more here.
Tara Wesson is a second-year Journalism and Creative Writing student. She likes long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. But no, she's really just a book-lover with a dog called Shorty, a love of travel, and a penchant for dad jokes.